NRC mum about security problem at Limerick nuclear plant

An exterior view of Exelon’s Limerick Generating Station. File photo

LIMERICK — The federal government has identified a security problem at Exelon’s Limerick Generating Station but because it’s a security matter, officials can’t say what it is.

According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission letter issued Tuesday to Exelon, the problem or problems were identified during a June 20 inspection of the nuclear plant.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan explained that his agency uses a color code to indicate the severity of an issue at a nuclear plant, green being the lowest, on to white, then yellow and then red.

“But in the area of security, after many years of debate, the commission decided that we would let the public know if an inspection finds a security problem at a plant near them, but that we wouldn’t be specific other than to announce it as being above a very low level,” Sheehan said.

“The reason being that if you are a terrorist, and you’re looking across the nuclear power plant landscape, you might conclude it is better to go after a plant that has a yellow or red security issue, as opposed to one that doesn’t have anything flagged at all,” explained Sheehan.

As a result, the unnamed security problem inspectors identified at the Limerick Generating Station is being characterized on the color code scale only as “greater than green.”

“We’re trying to strike a balance between letting the public know there is a potential problem and maintaining secrecy around security issues,” Sheehan said.

The NRC’s view of the matter is not final.

Exelon has 10 days to decide if it wants to contest the inspectors’ findings. If so, “we give the company a chance to present further information, if they want, to shed more light on the issue,” Sheehan said.

Dana Melia, site communications manager for the Limerick plant, responded in an email Thursday, saying, “Safety and security are top priorities at Limerick Generating Station. We promptly addressed the potential issue identified during the NRC inspection and at no time was the security of the facility at risk. Exelon has a rigorous Corrective Action Program to ensure that all potential issues, including those with very low safety significance, are identified, addressed and shared across the fleet.

“We anticipate further discussion with the NRC to appropriately categorize the finding and ensure that it was addressed.

“Nuclear facilities are highly secure, virtually impenetrable facilities that are models of security for other industries. Limerick has a defense in-depth physical security system and highly trained paramilitary personnel who are qualified in force protection and antiterrorism techniques.”

If Exelon does decide to contest the finding, a meeting with NRC must occur within 30 days, Sheehan said.

Following that, the NRC will issue a final determination in the matter which may involve increased oversight at the plant.

“The finding is also an apparent violation of NRC requirements and is being considered for escalated enforcement action,” according to the letter from James Trapp, acting director of NRC’s division of reactor safety, to Michael Pacillio, senior vice president at Exelon and its chief nuclear officer.

Sheehan said a public announcement on a final NRC determination about the matter should be issued “within the next two months” whether Exelon appeals the determination or not.

The last time security issues made headlines at the power plant was in 2006, when a security guard working for a private security firm at the plant was fired after he was found sleeping on the job.

A year later, Exelon fired Wackenhut, the private Florida firm providing security at all 10 of its power plants, after guards were video-taped sleeping on the job at Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant in York County.